Entering Hauser & Wirth’s South Savile Row gallery I find I’ve stumbled into a press conference. Takesada Matsutani is taking questions about a piece on the floor just in front of him. The work is a recently enacted performance (or more specifically, the remnants from one) titled Hauser & Wirth, London and dated 2013. Despite the name, this is neither the first time that this work has been enacted nor the first the place in which it was shown. In every instance of performance the name and date of the work is changed, separating it from all other versions and demarcating it as a unique action in time.
On the floor in the middle of the room is a white square of canvas. A small mound bulges at its centre. Atop the mound is a stone block, lined with black trickles and splatters, and at the bottom of the incline puddles of black ink join to make an ominous moat. Hanging above the floor piece is a white bag; canvas tied into a sack-shape with rope, and hung from the ceiling. The bag contains a bulk, but the shape does not give away the contents.
Viewed as a whole, the work evokes a feeling of action. Tell-tale heel and handprints on the canvas point to human involvement, and a small inky black bar resting by the stone gives a clue about the process involved in the work’s formation. The human interaction with the materials is evident, but can only be viewed as a residue.
A sheet of paper stretches the length of the wall behind Matsutani, acting as a backdrop to the press conference. It has been covered in graphite, its surface is grey and shiny, and across its centre is a horizontal white line. From a distance the line appears to be made of white chalk, but it is just the white of the paper in the absence of graphite. It could be formed by engraving or impression. Either the white space has somehow avoided the graphite, or it has been covered and then worn away again. The work is called Stream-10 (1984-2010).
At the edge of the ten-metre strip of paper, where it has been torn-off, the graphite continues onto the wall. Flicks and drips of grey run down its white painted surface to pool on the floor. The work has a sense of time inbuilt. Though the process of its production is not visible, the expanse of graphite-covered paper exists as evidence of a durational act.
Evolution (1997) is a white canvas with a dark graphite-coated protrusion pushing out from its centre. The mass sags under its own weight to form flesh-like creases on its underside. The idea of a drawing as a durational act is extended here; the final shape of the work can only have been formed over a long period of time. After the quick action of pouring acetate adhesive to create the mass, the substance will take months to dry, slowly morphing into its endmost shape.
Evolution is part of a series of recent acetate adhesive-based works, but the process is a continuation of one used in Matsutani’s earlier work. A room of the exhibition is dedicated to works from the 1960s, and whilst the other rooms are – except for a few flashes of deep blue – completely monochromatic, this one is full of colour. Work-63 (1963) contains a bright red, shiny, boil, its surface flecked with pinky-white drips. Other works establish a Yayoi Kusama-like theme of repeated circular protrusions. Unlike Kusama’s spots, each of Matsutani’s circles has been split across the middle so that they bear open gashes, making them look like strange fleshy orifices.
The earlier works, with their biomorphic masses and oozing boils that jut from the canvas, are certainly more sensational. The quieter, monochromatic works lack this sort of spectacle, but they do not need to be so overtly expressive at a surface level. Their tranquil exterior allows for a focus on material and form, evoking the intensity of the process and gesture inseparable from their formation. Whilst the works from the 1960s expressively play-up to the presence of a viewer, the time inherent in the shy, behind-closed-doors performativity of the recent works precipitates a greater resonance.
Takesada Matsutani: A Matrix, 18 May – 27 July, Hauser & Wirth, 23 Savile Row, London, W1S 2ET.
1. Takesada Matsutani, Curated by Midori Nishizawa, Organised with Olivier Renaud-Clement, Hauser & Wirth London, Savile Row, South Gallery. Circle-Eruption, 2005, Polyvinyl acetate adhesive, acrylic, graphite pencil on canvas, 169.5 x 120 x 3.5 cm / 66 3/4 x 47 1/4 x 1 3/8 in © Takesada Matsutani, Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth, Photo: Alex Delfanne.